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Personal Finance: Control What You Can Control

Stith Keiser, BA, Blue Heron Consulting, Rochester, New York

October 2016|Peer Reviewed|Web-Exclusive

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Personal Finance: Control What You Can Control

You would never guess if you saw me, but I had the opportunity to play football (ie, warm the bench) at a small NCAA Division III college. I will never forget showing up for camp, overwhelmed by anxiety and uncertainty, and receiving our playbook. On the cover, next to the school logo, were the words Control What You Can Control

Embarking on a veterinary career may not seem parallel, but I believe Control What You Can Control applies to the veterinary profession today, just as it did to my football career. Veterinary professionals constantly hear about rising student debt, increased competition for job candidates and practice owners, and fickle client attitudes. It is easy to become overwhelmed, but veterinary professionals need to focus on what they can control, just as I did on the football field.

Few joined this profession for money, but you owe it to yourselves, your practices, family members who depend on you now or in the future, and your profession to be stewards of your earnings, starting with the career path you choose. Again, money should not drive the choice, but with loans to pay and retirement to plan for—even as a new graduate—no one should jump in blindly.

How Much Will You Earn?

Statistics change each year, but the salary the average new veterinary graduate can expect to receive varies according to the field he or she chooses.1


Veterinary Salaries by Career Choice1

Employment Type Mean Starting Salary
Food Animal Exclusive $74 687
Food Animal Predominant $68 628
Mixed Animal $62 991
Companion Animal Exclusive $69 983
Companion Animal Predominant $68 711
Equine $42 134
Corporate/Public $58 993

Salary data for experienced veterinarians broken down by discipline is not quite as easy to find, but the 2016 AVMA Report on Veterinary Markets shows what veterinarians in various fields are earning today, on average, based on graduation dates.1

Figure 1 2014 Veterinary Graduate Student Debt Loads

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When looking at salaries, the amounts should be framed within the debt amount carried so a budget can be adjusted appropriately. According to another report, an average veterinarian graduates with approximately $140 000 in veterinary school debt2 (see Figure 1), which would require up to $1600 every month to service the debt, based on the loan repayment program. It is important to weigh various repayment options because the route you select can heavily influence your monthly payments. The below table represents only 2 of many repayment options, an extended repayment plan and a plan using income based repayment. You will notice that even with the exact same amount of debt at the same interest rate, the monthly payments vary and “Veterinarian B” would only end up paying $162 000 with the remaining balance forgiven, though taxable, after 20 years.


Debt Repayment Option Examples

  Veterinarian A Veterinarian B
Debt at Graduation $130 000 at 6.8% $130 000 at 6.8%

Salary at Year 1

Salary at Year 10

Salary at Year 25

$28 000

$95 008

$148 019

$28 000

$95 008

$148 019

Payment Plan Extended Repayment Income-Based Repayment
Monthly Payment $902 $84 to $505 to $807
Payment to Income Ratio Over 100% to 10.8% 15% to 10%

However, although you may have limited control over debt load, you can control how you spend income and what you do with excess earnings.

Your Number

The budget you create, coupled with your investment and savings strategy, should be based on “your number,” which financial advisors describe as the amount required for income-producing assets to produce enough monthly and annual cash flow to support the desired quality of life at retirement. (See Personal Asset Financial Sheet Handout.)

The Personal Asset Financial Sheet includes a column of potential investments. Annual return on investment (ie, the percent return that can be expected on any dollar invested), will vary based on the investment and the market. For example:

Average annual rate of return received on all investments = 5%

Desired annual earnings post-retirement = $100 000

Required amount of income-producing assets = $2 million 

(ie, 5% of $2 million = $100 000)

Calculating your number and reviewing the asset sheet should encourage you to start thinking now about saving and investing your money. 

Interest in the Future

It is never too early to start investing, no matter your career stage or role in the veterinary profession. Also, no amount is too small—putting aside $100 each month may not seem like much, and 10% to 15% of your earnings is recommended, but not saving even a little is exponentially more expensive, as the concept of compounding interest shows.


Compounding the Importance of Investing Wisely3

Compounding Interest 100 000 at 1% 100 000 at 5% 100 000 at 10%
After 3 years of saving 103 030 115 762 133 100
After 6 years of saving 106 152 134 009 177 156
After 9 years of saving 109 368 155 132 235 794
After 12 years of saving 112 682 179 585 313 842
After 15 years of saving 116 096 207 892 417 724

Your investment portfolio will dictate the different levels of compound interest, which will in turn impact your investment income. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has a helpful tool that allows you to run through different investment scenarios and glean how much your money can grow.

The Personal Asset Financial Sheet is a great tool to use as a preliminary brainstorming guide on components that can be included in your investment portfolio.  Not all investments will produce interest (think a veterinary practice, rental real estate or agriculture, though they all can still provide income and grow in value).  Interest producing investments include, but are not limited to, products such as mutual funds, annuities, certificates of deposit (CDs) and bonds. For more information on types of investment products, and definitions, the US Government has created a list that can be found here.


The veterinary profession is not generally known for its financial prowess, and thinking about complicated market elements can be daunting for veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and other team members alike. Therefore, take my football coach’s advice—take charge of your financial future and control what you can.

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